Though some critics say charter schools that serve predominantly African-Americans, Latinos or Native Americans are “segregated,” such schools can be “culturally affirming” and should not be lumped with schools that are segregated in the traditional sense of the word.
That was the key point that Chris Stewart, director of outreach and external affairs at Education Post, a school reform group, made at a recent charter school forum at the University of Southern California.
“When governments assign you by race to inferior schools, that is traditionally segregation,” Stewart said. “When parents pick culturally affirming programs for their child, that is so far from the traditional understanding of segregation that it’s almost insulting to call it that. It’s cultural survival.”
Stewart made his remarks in response to a charge by University of California, Los Angeles education and law professor Gary Orfield that charter schools are perpetuating segregation because there is no plan to ensure that they enroll students from diverse backgrounds.
“The problem is these are new schools, so we are creating new segregated schools,” said Orfield, who is co-director of The Civil Rights Project at UCLA. “No one is doing anything to make them diverse.”
Orfield said charter schools should pursue diversity for the same reasons that colleges and universities pursue affirmative action — because diversity has been shown to be a “positive intellectual force.”
“Integration is much better than segregation,” Orfield said. “It changes lives in important ways, offers important opportunities not just for students of color but all students, as we see in our universities. We should pursue it in charter schools.”